SEVENTY-NINE families from across Northern Ireland descended on Portrush’s Best Western Magherabuoy House Hotel on Saturday for the seventh annual ‘Nativeland Visit’ by senior officials of the Thai Adoption Service.
Hosted by Armagh woman, Vivienne Scott, of the Thai Adoption Support Network NI, the event was part fun day and part promotion for “inter-country adoption”.
But for Coleraine couple, Sina and Susanne Rezvani, is was nothing more than a day of celebration as they proudly showed off the latest addition to their family - beautiful three-year-old Jasmine.
The bright youngster, who speaks fluent Thai, arrived at her new home in Coleraine just three weeks ago having lived at a Thai orphanage since birth. Her arrival marks the end of a long six-year wait for her parents to give their first adopted child, Ramon (8), a much longed-for little sister.
Keen to highlight the joys and the benefits of adopting a child from Thailand, the couple agreed to a request from Vivienne to speak to The Times about their experiences of adoption.
Susanne (46), a locum GP in Coleraine, and Sina (49), a lecturer and research fellow for the University of Ulster, first came to Coleraine 14 years ago after meeting at university in their native Germany.
From the beginning, they wanted one boy and one girl “to make our family complete.” However, for them natural childbirth was just not meant to be and after two years of fertility treatment the couple decided to adopt.
Initially wanting to give a home to a Northern Irish child, the professional twosome soon discovered they were up against a brick wall as their Baha’i religion was at odds with the birth mother’s wishes and the government’s desire to only place children within their own cultural and religious community.
They protested that Northern Ireland’s narrow view on religion was depriving a child of two loving parents and even had their plight highlighted in a Channel 4 documentary called “Journeys” but to no avail.
Then, after a chance meeting with a member of a newly formed support group for parents of adopted Thai children, the couple turned their back on Ulster and looked overseas to “the land of smiles” where, in 2005, they adopted a sturdy two-year-old boy, they named Ramon.
Knowing the emotional highs and lows of waiting six years to be matched with a child, Sina and Susanne immediately applied to be matched with a little girl and had their names added straight away to the UK waiting list.
In March this year, after sitting at the top of the list for years, they were informed via telephone that they had been matched with “a pretty, girlie girl” as Susanne describes her.
They had another short wait - until June when 8-year-old Ramon finished for the summer at Coleraine’s Irish Society school - and the family of three flew to Thailand for a three week visit to spend time with the little girl that would eventually come home as Sina and Susanne’s long awaited daughter and Ramon’s baby sister.
“It has made our family complete,” said Susanne. “She is absolutey perfect...yes, we are a very happy family.”
Thinking back to the long struggle to get to where they are today, it is obvious that Susanne and Sina’s faith has been a source of strength to them both.
“Despite the wait and the other problems, if something is meant to be then all the hurdles will go away,” she said.
Speaking at the happy 150 person get-together on Saturday, the volunteer group’s chairwoman, Vivienne, added her congratulations and said everyone in the organisation shared in Sina and Susanne’s happiness.
“We have all been where they are,” she smiled. “It’s a great help to know that others have been through the same process and have experienced the same frustrations and the same joy at the end of it.”
Vivienne’s husband, Colin, agreed: “That’s why we are so keen to promote inter-country adoption and to let other would-be parents know what a beautiful, safe and caring country Thailand is to adopt from.”
Revealing that one of three Thai dignitaries visiting that day was from the Thai Home Department for the Prevention of Trafficking, Colin stressed that as well as working to promote Thai culture and friendship among members, the charity was also there to raise awareness of the misery caused by human trafficking and to let people know that Thailand and Stormont work together “to combat trafficking and make inter-country adoption as safe and as positive an experience for everyone involved.
“That’s why they are here today,” he said. “When you mention adopting from another country, most people think of the rich and famous - Madonna, Brad and Angelina - but this is a government approved service with no profit in it for any agency or third party. We just want to promote inter-country adoption from Thailand because we know it is ethical and approved.
He added: “People will exploit the desperation of childlessness given half a chance and if there’s an open and ethical system there with the approval and support of both governments, then it is our duty to shout it from the rooftops.”
REPORT: JEFF WHYTE.
PICTURES: MARK JAMIESON